Recent days have seen a revival in UFC fighters -- both former and current -- complaining about how much the promotion pays out to the men that step in the cage. Dana White's initial response to these complains was to say "You don't like the structure? All right, we'll pay the lower-level guys more money – no more f--king bonuses."
Today, while speaking with the media, Dana clarified his stance:
Dana clears up that they are considering getting rid of all bonuses, not just FON bonuses.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 4, 2013
Dana: the guys who are complaining about the money are the guys who don't matter right now.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 4, 2013
Dana to Cholish: you know why you didn't get paid enough? Because you didn't deserve it.— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) July 4, 2013
Now, the "behind-the-scenes" discretionary bonuses are a sort of magic bullet in these discussions. Nobody but each individual fighter knows what, if anything, the UFC is paying out in these bonuses. Many fighters have said that the UFC has paid them tremendously well through these bonuses, others have made it seem like they make little to nothing.
What we do know about is the "of the Night" bonuses, meaning Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night and Submission of the Night.
So, who would be hurt most if these bonuses were eliminated?
There have been fifteen events thus far in 2013 with a total of $2,985,000* handed out for 58 disclosed bonuses (two events only gave out 3 as opposed to 4 bonuses). While the majority of events have had $50,000 bonuses, one event had $60,000 bonuses and another $65,000.
- Fighters in the main event or co-main event were awarded 19 of the 58 bonuses for $950,000 or roughly 32% of the total.
- Fighters on the main card but not in the main or co-main event were awarded 21 of the bonuses for a total $1,115,000 or about 37% of the near $3mil.
- Fighters on the televised prelims were awarded eight bonuses for $400,000 (13%).
- Fighters on the non-televised prelims on Facebook/YouTube were awarded ten bonuses for $520,000 (17%).
Main event and co-main event fighters are always among the very top paid fighters on a card, they're also able to attract the most and best sponsors. Similarly, being on the main card, even if not in the featured two bouts of the evening allows fighters better access to sponsorship dollars, and generally brings with it a better payday.
Those two groups are taking home almost 70% of the bonus money so far this year.
Meanwhile, fighters who are on the bottom of the card, making far less money in base pay, with less interest from sponsors both in terms of name recognition and visibility (TV > internet) are taking home less than 20%.
There is obviously a sample size issue looking only at the first half of 2013. But 2012 isn't much different. Main event and co-main event fighters took 30% of the bonuses, main card fighters not in the featured bouts took 35%, television prelim fighters took 25% and only 9% of the bonuses went to the fighters on the untelevised prelims.
It would seem to be in the best interest of the fighters who need it most (remember, on a card like UFC 159 there were twelve fighters who made $20,000 or less in disclosed pay) to give up the possibility of getting a big "of the night" bonus and uncertain amounts that they may or may not make in discretionary bonuses depending on the promotion's happiness with them after an event, in favor of guaranteed higher base pay.
But, Dana still seemed focused on the "life changing" aspects of the nightly bonuses today, as reported by MMA Junkie:
White's initial comments about canceling bonuses – not just the fight-night bonuses, but the undisclosed discretionary bonuses that many fighters receive – were met with disappointment, not just by some fighters, but also some fans. Perhaps that why White today softened his stance.
"I said, 'This is what we're thinking about doing,'" he said. "But I agree. I love giving the 'Fight of the Night' bonuses. They're awesome, and they change people's lives.
"Before a decision like that is made, we're going to talk to the fighters too. This isn't something (UFC CEO) Lorenzo (Fertitta) and I are just going to say, 'Yeah, this is what we're going to do.' We're going to talk to a lot of fighters about it before we make those decisions."
And there will always be some who remember stories like that of Pat Barry who was forced to eat ketchup and rice before getting $120,000 in bonuses for beating Antoni Hardonk and think about the life changing aspects of the bonuses instead of the fact that he was living on ketchup and rice as a guy who had already fought multiple times for the biggest MMA promotion ever.
* Note: For the purposes of "who gets the initial nod" on bonus pay, I left the UFC 159 bonuses in Pat Healy's name. He did lose his fight of the night and submission of the night bonuses after the fact for testing positive for marijuana. If you were to adjust these numbers there would be one extra bonus of $65,000 on the TV prelims for the revised bonus given to Bryan Caraway and $130,000 removed from the main card for Healy's two bonuses. Again, the intention here was to capture where the initial money is placed, which I felt more accurately captured where the preferred distribution of the money was.